A petition has been launched to re-open a former museum in West Yorkshire that has links to Charlotte Bronte.
The Red House Museum in Gomersal was once the family home of one of Charlotte Bronte's schoolfriends and the author was a regular visitor to the house. Charlotte met Mary Taylor, a cloth manufacturer's daughter, at Roe Head School in Mirfield, and she based her novel Shirley on the 17th-century property and its beautiful gardens, which she saw as a contrast to her own family's parsonage in Haworth.
Kirklees Council ran the house as a museum from 1969 until 2016, when cuts to cultural services forced its closure. The building has been empty ever since and is up for sale.
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Now a group of supporters are campaigning for it to be given back to the community and re-opened.
A Change.org petition launched to reinstate a Community Bid to Buy clause has gained around 2,000 signatures and needs 3,000 to trigger a council debate about the Grade II-listed building's future.
Local residents claim that Red House has been 'left to rot' since its closure and that the grounds have become overgrown. The site is still maintained by Kirklees Council.
One of those campaigning to bring Red House back into use is Caroline Goodwill, of Cleckheaton.
"We want it back in the community - there is so much heritage. It has links with Charlotte Bronte, with the Luddites, with the Wesleyan Methodists - they all visited the Red House. Charlotte loved to go there, and it was sort of the other side of the coin for her. If Red House was anywhere else, it would be valued, but here it has been left to rot."
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The group hope to raise money via literary societies, cultural grants and public fundraising to re-open the attraction, which Caroline believes has potential to become a wedding venue. Their members include a former curator who worked at the museum.
"There is so much that can be done with the Red House," added Caroline.
After its closure, Kirklees Council made the building available as part of a community asset transfer, but then turned down three bids from volunteer groups who wished to run it, claiming they were unsuitable. It is now for sale on the open market.
It was later revealed that in the year following its closure, the council had spent around £30,000 on maintaining the site - almost as much as it had cost them to operate it as a visitor attraction.
They also admitted to using property guardians, who pay an affordable rental fee to live in empty buildings to deter vandalism and squatting.
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A Kirklees Council spokesperson said:
“The closure of Red House Museum is part of our plans to improve and transform Kirklees Council’s Museums and Galleries offer for modern day audiences. We also could not afford to keep this building open as it was operating at a significant loss.
“We always look to work with our communities to deliver the best solution. That’s why we initially asked local groups interested in taking over the building in a community asset transfer to come forward, but none of the three bids we received were suitable.
“We’re in the process of putting the site on the open market. We will work to ensure that this historic site goes to someone who can deliver a suitable and sustainable long-term future for it.”
The petition can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/the-leader-of-kirklees-council-save-red-house-yorks-inspiration-for-shirley-by-charlotte-bronte